It was standing room only at the recent regular meeting of the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education on Wednesday, November 4. The room was filled with several dozen district teachers wearing identical red t-shirts with the word “RESPECT” printed in large white lettering on the back. Those present who couldn’t find room to stand spilled over into the hallway outside.
The members of the New Paltz United Teachers (NPUT) were there in a show of unity to ask the BOE and superintendent Maria Rice for a “fair and reasonable” contract.
Four teachers from the group, one from each building in the district, came forward during the public comment session.
Arielle Chiger, second grade teacher at Duzine Elementary School and president of NPUT, told the board that the teachers there were dressed identically in order to reinforce how “unified and unwavering” they are in their quest for a fair contract. “In spite of being well into our second year without a contract,” she said, “we continue to provide extraordinary instruction and support to our students in a way that shows how much we believe in the power of dedication to our school community and in our professional responsibility to our students.”
Chiger itemized a list of events that Duzine teachers participate in beyond their normal contract day, which include the Duzine Music and Art Show, ELL Family Night, summer home visits to introduce themselves to new students, Scarecrow Festival planning, maintaining the school garden, the Earth Day Festival, the districtwide Diversity Committee and the “Spotlight on Program” presentations regularly given at the beginning of BOE meetings.
That refrain was picked up in succession by Lenape teacher Liz Burdick, middle school teacher Nicole Sullivan and high school teacher Lisa St. John. Each spoke of the extracurricular activities that all teachers participate in at their schools above and beyond the hours their contracts call for, doing everything from organizing school supply and blood drives to chaperoning field trips and dances, organizing book clubs and guest speakers, writing college application recommendation letters and cheering on students at their games, concerts and plays.
“And we’re doing all this without a contract,” each said in turn.
The teachers noted that while they appreciate the words of praise they’ve received from the BOE and administrators, they’d rather see action. Getting a “fair and reasonable” contract from the board and administrators would demonstrate a commitment to the teachers equal to their own commitment to the students, they said.
St. John acknowledged the work the board and administrators have done in maintaining high standards while fighting high stakes testing. “I’m sure you see the many ways we have been working jointly with you to uphold the district’s mission and educational master plan in the interests of the children and families of this district. Is it not a step backward for this highly evolved and forward-looking board and administration to refuse to agree to a fair contract with the teachers during a time when, more than ever, we need to pull together to combat the assault on public education?”